The bitterness and acrimony of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spilled over the tennis courts at the US Open once again on Thursday as Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk in straight sets 6-2 6-3.
Kostyuk, who stated her belief that players from Russia and Belarus should be banned from playing the sport, refused to shake hands with Azarenka after her defeat, opting only to click with Azarenka when it was over.
In April Kostyuk and several other players from Ukraine called on the tennis governing organizations to ask tennis players from Russia and Belarus if they supported the war and denounce it if they did not. In the absence of anti-war advertisements, Kostyuk and other Ukrainian players said players from Russia and Belarus should be banned from any international event.
“There comes a time when silence is a betrayal, and now is the time,” the players’ statement said.
Speaking to reporters at a post-match press conference, Kostyuk made it clear that she does not care about shaking hands with players who have not spoken out against the brutality of war. It also criticized players from Russia and Belarus for not communicating with players from Ukraine, many of whom have not been able to return home since Russia invaded their country in February.
Kostyuk texted Azarenka before the match to tell her that she would not shake hands with her after the match, but the two did not speak beforehand.
It was the second time in two weeks that Kostyuk had pursued Azarenka, who has appeared several times in the past years with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Last week, Kostyuk pushed officials from the US Tennis Association to ban Azarenka from participating in an exhibition in favor of relief efforts in Ukraine. On Thursday, she defended those actions, saying they would have resembled a German presence in favor of European Jews during World War II.
Azarenka planned to participate in the duel until Kostyuk and other players from Ukraine protested.
Shortly after Kostyuk spoke on Thursday, Azarenka held her own press conference and defended her actions. She said she has reached out to players from Ukraine but has sent messages through intermediaries with the WTA Tour, which helps run her as a member of the players’ council.
“I’ve had a very clear message from the start, that I’m here to try to help, and I’ve done a lot,” Azarenka said. “Maybe it’s not something people see. And that’s not what I do for it. I do it for people in need, or little ones who need clothes, or other people who need money or other people who need transportation or whatever. That’s what’s important to me.” me, to help the needy.”
Azarenka said that if Kostyuk wanted to talk to her, she was “at any time open to listening and trying to understand and empathize.” She added, “I think empathy in a moment like this is really important.”
Tensions between players from the warring countries have been rising for months.
Iga Swiatek, the Polish No. 1 in the world who held a fundraiser for relief efforts in Ukraine and condemned the invasion, said sport leaders missed an opportunity to manage these tensions when war first broke out.
“Right now, it’s too late, I think, to fix that,” Swiatek said Thursday. “Right now, it’s easy to say there may have been a lack of leadership, but at the time I didn’t know what to do either.”